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Consolidating electronics


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  • #3748127
    Todd G
    BPL Member

    @todd-goodenowgmail-com

    Hi all,

    I don’t like bringing distractions and needless extraneous gear. My electronics profile has been expanding though while the rest of my kit has been shrinking. At this point I generally will bring my mirror less camera (a7c smallest and lightest full frame camera out there and I use a lightish lense) and rechargeable camera batteries, cellphone, garmin mini, and power bank. If I go in a group I often bring my solar power and because the weight is lighter than 2 of the ankers we’d otherwise bring and despite negative feelings in the community it has always been able to be recharged and sustained trips of 1-2 weeks. I’ve started using my apple watch largely to gauge heart rate and calories outside of backpacking and I find this increasingly useful for pacing and the like. Prior I started using a basic nongps altimeter for off trail stuff (bulk of my backpacking). I use the phone for journaling sometimes, gps apps, garmin in theory, and when I get back to town or emergencies. On trips longer than 2 weeks I’d probably ditch my camera. None of these are necessary honestly and I’m wondering if I could find creative ways to consolidate since some of the functions overlap (watch, phone, garmin). Appreciate opinions and suggestions!

    #3748158
    Dan
    BPL Member

    @dan-s

    Locale: Colorado

    I think the lowest hanging fruit would be to streamline down to the phone and the Garmin. Obviously, the Garmin provides unique communication functions for emergencies, so that can’t be easily replaced (at least until we have a full network of low earth orbiting satellites). The phone can serve as a camera / GPS / altimeter with an app like Gaia. If you use the phone carefully, I’m certain you can get at least 5 days without a recharge. If you want to leave them on all the time and accumulate a full GPS track, then your battery use will be significantly more.

    However, backpacking is about enjoying yourself, and if your camera gives you joy, then ignore the above. :-)

    #3748186
    Atif K
    BPL Member

    @atifethica-institute-2

    Camera: Colin Fletcher makes a strong case for not bringing a camera in his book The Complete Walker. After a while, every beautiful view becomes a frame for a picture. Something is lost in that process. Long ago I used to put a lot of care into pictures: a manual Nikon FM2, warming colorizers, slides viewed on a projector with family, etc. Even then, no picture truly captured the depth of field, color, and feel of a place. The moment you are actually there somehow becomes richer when there is no camera around. Unless the camera is used for work or documentation purposes, leaving it home improves the experience.

    Cellphone: Beside the well documented radiation effects cited in Disconnect by Dr. Devra Davis and Dirty Electricity by Sam Milham, the mind is always tethered to the device. One is never truly in the wild. The dopamine fix to the prefrontal cortex is the cocaine pellet you want to get away from, so why bring it in the first place? For safety reasons a good set of skills will do more. People were fine in the backcountry before the 21st century zombified the planet.

    Garmin Mini: A map, compass, and being able to turn contour lines into terrain and vice versa are more useful than a gadget.

    Solar Power: Get rid of the electronics and this goes too.

    Apple Watch: Why do you need to monitor heart rate and calories? Take the food you normally take. When you get hungry fat burn and the next time take more. There are far more variables than calories: your metabolic rate varies; temperatures vary; the rigors of a hike vary; what you eat varies. A good book that discusses the science behind this is Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories.

    Phone for Journaling: Paper and pencil is lighter, tougher, and more aesthetically pleasing.

    Nursing electronics from water, impact, and extreme heat and cold, and managing battery life remain a problem.

    You summed it up best: “None of these are necessary honestly…”

    #3748310
    HkNewman
    BPL Member

    @hknewman

    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    electronics profile

    Short answer: Consolidation … the iPhone remains ever more capable as a multi-function device.  A young videography student told me she’s been able to do 80% of her marketing and artsy videos on it (though a standalone camera is still a course requirement.. she bought via eBay but I digress).  For our daylight nature shots, I’d think an iPhone would be fine (maybe with an UL gimble?).

     

    Long answer: As I fantasize about losing 10 oz on the next shelter, hoping another 10 oz off my next pack, etc.. it also s seems the newer smartphones take up more “juice” too, potentially requiring a bigger external battery.  The stats on the latter haven’t really changed but the gadgets seem hungrier.

    Still a smartphone is multiuse with GPS/nav capabilities along with camera, being able to monitor the “home front”, etc.. These will often work as a receiver even in “airplane mode” saving quite a bit of battery.

    One easy idea for everyone is a cheap, yet weather hardened watch.  Once I know my pace, I can simply consult my watch to estimate my location.  I’ll leave the smartphone in its case more often than not.  That lack of interaction also reduces the potential of leaving said phone off “airplane” mode, as curiosity often means searching for a signal.

    For hikers who also want to add more media, another idea could be “fast” chargers.  Sit down for a coffee (and pastry .. don’t be too cheap) next to an outlet and get a full charge in an hour or so.

    #3748312
    Jason
    BPL Member

    @hermantherugger

    I don’t have anything earth shattering to add, but found myself recently with some similar thoughts.  The main electronics I bring in the field are my phone, smartwatch, and a battery bank.  My phone covers navigation, I used my smartwatch (Garmin Instinct) for tracking distance and biometrics.  The data scratched the nerd itch, but the utility was really having my watch to track distance without my phone.  Situations where “road crossing or water source is 3 miles ahead” and I could just watch for roughly that distance and start looking for the landmark.

    Thinking back on past experiences and recent trips, I had some similar thoughts.  I didn’t have any of this stuff 5 – 10+ years ago and still loved the experience, why am I really using it.  The thing that sealed the deal for me was two fold –

    1.  After charging my watch daily and phone as needed, I still never found the end of my battery bank.  It was too big at 13k mah, but I was pretty sure 5k wouldn’t cut it for both devices on a 4+ day trip.

    2.   Simplicity is the most important metric for my hiking gear / style, and the watch was taking me away from that.  It added the distance utility, but drove me crazy when I had to charge it mid day or forgot to plug it in right when I got to camp (and then had to stay awake while it charged).  I was frustrated if I forgot to restart it after a break or missed “credit” for a portion of the activity…even though that’s ridiculous.

    The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze for the watch, I’m dropping it this year and picked up a solar powered watch with a built in compass  to replace it (I still want that as a backup for navigation when hiking, hunting, etc.).  After a couple of trips I haven’t found myself missing it at all.  I downsized my battery bank to just charge my phone a time or two as well, shaving some weight from my pack.

    #3748403
    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member

    @rex

    Fast chargers (and battery banks) only help if matched by fast (high power) cables and fast rechargeable devices like newer high-end smartphones. Most backpacking-appropriate gadgets won’t charge any faster.

    Fast in this context is anything above 18 watts or so. I’ve nearly smoked a few USB cables during accidental testing at 45 watts.

    Back to the OP subject: My minimum high-tech electronics load is an inReach Mini (aka “permission ticket”) plus a Casio solar ABC watch, mostly for the time and compass. More and more I’m seeing the advantages of carrying an iPhone, still on the fence.

    But I’ve spent decades using paper maps. Customized maps laser printed on double-sided 11×17 paper at a local shop reduce complexity and weight.

    — Rex

    Obviously, all electronic gadgets run on smoke. When the smoke gets out, they stop working.

    #3748408
    Arthur
    BPL Member

    @art-r

    “Obviously, all electronic gadgets run on smoke. When the smoke gets out, they stop working.”

    Rex, great memory!  I remember when this important and basic law of physics became widely held. Long time ago.

    #3748422
    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member

    @rex

    IBM sold magic smoke refill kits in the 1970s:

    — Rex :-)

    #3748523
    David Thomas
    BPL Member

    @davidinkenai

    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    The first step is to admit you have a problem.

    It’s hard to leave behind a smart phone that’s so multi-function (still camera, video, step counter, GPS, altimeter, compass, eBook, mapping app, wallet, clock, timer, alarm clock, reference library, games, weather forecasts, ride-calling app, and, oh yeah, it’s a phone!).  But just don’t use continually.  Tuck it away.  If a belt-mounted step counter lets you turn off that app (you can transfer in your step counts later), then it saves more than its weight in batteries.  If you’re constantly checking the time, maybe bring a wristwatch.  Or watch the sun’s progress across the sky.

    Printing a few small paper maps and notating them with the time you passed each landmark can help you avoid constantly checking a trail app.  And, I find, gives me a better sense of the surrounding terrain than looking at a tiny screen.

    Heart rate can be determined with your fingertip and counting (or the aforementioned wristwatch).  Calories are whatever you packed (unless you’re a uber-hunter-gatherer).

    Then you can keep your phone stored and off for many many days without the need for extra batteries and solar panels.

    #3748534
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    When I worked in Denali I watched countless tourists on buses miss a lot of wildlife action, because they were so focused- literally- on getting the best camera shot. A fellow rider would tell them what they missed, and they’d be angry or upset, a mood that could linger and continue to interfere with their experience. Or they’d never know what they missed while fumbling with another roll of film. The whole experience was designed to show the neighbors photos when they got home. I stopped bringing a camera and immersed myself in the environment. I now occasionally take photos but I spend more time just observing. As always, HYOH. Just something to consider.

    #3748665
    Atif K
    BPL Member

    @atifethica-institute-2

    David Thomas’s and AK Granola’s advice is good. You have to know yourself.

    Some are more prone to addiction to or heavy dependence on the smartphone than others. Those design engineers behind many of the most powerful apps who eventually found their mea culpa now freely admit that they were actually designing to addict users. Nicholas Carr has a number of books and articles on the subject.

    So even if you can resist the temptation to turn your device on, the apps themselves are designed to pull at your brain. And because your brain is neuroplastic, this pull affects the very physiology of the brain itself. Resistance, as they say, is futile.

    The alternative: keep it off, or, fellow hikers, bring things right back to 1995 and don’t own one.

    #3748998
    David Sugeno
    BPL Member

    @davesugeno

    Locale: Central Texas

    My question is closely related to the OP, so I’ll pose it here.  I do not own a smartphone, and have never really wanted one.  However, I am now considering purchasing one, without a phone plan, primarily to use while backpacking.  I currently carry a decent quality p&s camera, a NOOK ereader, and an old Inreach SE.  I use map and compass for navigation, but there have been times when GPS would have been nice to have.  So I figure I could take an iphone, which would allow me to leave the camera and ereader at home, and allow me to have GPS if needed (I will always rely on map and compass as my primary navigation tools).  A phone would also allow me to bring nature guide resources.  I occasionally bring a paperback bird field guide with me, but that’s a lot of weight.  The thought of carrying electronic identification resources for bird and plant identification really appeals to me.  I could further drop weight by upgrading my Inreach to a Mini.  Since I have no experience with smartphones, does this seem like a reasonable idea?  And what would be a good choice for a phone?  Again, I would not plan to use it for anything but backpacking.  I’m assuming that for longer trips I would need to carry a lightweight powerbank with me.

    #3749003
    matthew k
    Moderator

    @matthewkphx

    That’s a great plan, in my opinion. You can replace several devices with one device.

    I’m partial to Apple products. The SE is a very cost-effective and lightweight device but the camera is lacking. I carry an iPhone 13 Mini which I prefer because of the small size. I get remarkable photos with the main camera but I miss the telephoto my old phone had (because of how it cropped images, not because of any real “telephoto” uses like photographing birds at a distance). The Pro models have stunning cameras but are expensive and heavier/larger.

    I’m saying the following as a participant, not a moderator: I hope this doesn’t devolve into an Apple vs Android debate. Also, let’s not turn this into a tiresome refrain of “People shouldn’t bring electronics into the wilderness because I make a different choice.” Let’s just answer David’s question about whether he can replace multiple devices with one device.

    #3749032
    David Sugeno
    BPL Member

    @davesugeno

    Locale: Central Texas

    Thanks, Matthew, that’s helpful info.  And I appreciate the admonishment of your last paragraph.  I speak as someone who is too often guilty of offering advice that was not asked for.  :)

    From looking at the Apple website, it looks like the iphone 12 mini has more or less the same camera as the 13 mini, but $100 less expensive.  A high quality camera is definitely one of my priorities, but I’m not sure I’m willing to shell out for a Pro model.

    Another specific question; how is the reading experience on an iphone?  The screen will be quite a bit smaller and brighter than my NOOK, so I’m a little concerned about this.  Thanks for your advice to an old Luddite.

    #3749036
    matthew k
    Moderator

    @matthewkphx

    Despite using the same sensor and glass, there are significant differences in image quality between the 12 Mini and 13 Mini. I noticed a difference immediately when I upgraded. Something about the processing is far superior. I think it’s worth the $100, YMMV.

    I don’t have time to read many books these days but I read a ton of blog posts as well as content from The New Yorker, The Atlantic and the NYT on my phone. I have read several books on my phone but I’d much rather read a real book. I suspect an e-ink display is a much nicer reading experience than a phone. Apple’s Books.app does allow you to change typeface and size in order to optimize the experience. I wish I could give you a more specific answer.

    #3749041
    Dan
    BPL Member

    @dan-s

    Locale: Colorado

    Personally, I don’t like reading on an iPhone.

    #3749069
    David Thomas
    BPL Member

    @davidinkenai

    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    AK Granola:  For great photos on the Denali bus to show the neighbors back home, just download professional photos of the species you saw and claim them as your own.  They’ll be much better than any you take yourself leaning over another tourist.  To everyone’s benefit.

    #3749074
    David Thomas
    BPL Member

    @davidinkenai

    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    TIL that there are 120-volt inverters and USB outlets powered by cordless tool batteries.  Who among us doesn’t have a fleet of DeWalt, Ryobi, and/or EGO batteries of 12-, 18-, 20- to 40-volts for cordless drills, weed whackers and lawnmowers?  150-watt 12-volt inverters are $85-$100 and 2-port USB outlets are $25, some with LED lights.

    That’s not UL, but it’s a lot of battery capacity you already have in your garage so, especially for a silent power source while car camping or boating, or if you have a ton of electronics while hiking (photogs, researchers, etc), it’s a minimal added cost for that functionality.

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